Saturday, May 26, 2007

Russia, Islam, and the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve

For Memorial Day

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From Russia Without Love
Vladimir Putin has criticized U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe, saying Russia will take “appropriate measures” to counter it, Reuters reports. “These systems will monitor Russian territory as far as the Ural mountains if we don’t come out with a response,” the Russian president told his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, at a Kremlin meeting. “We will not get hysterical about this. We will just take appropriate measures.” On April 24th, Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian armed forces’ General Staff, had warned: “If we see that these installations pose a threat to Russia’s national security, they will be targeted by our forces. What measures we are going to use - strategic, nuclear or other - is a technical issue.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that a Russian national was killed during rioting in Tallinn sparked by the Estonian government’s removal of a Soviet World War II memorial, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Estonian officials said earlier that a man was stabbed to death on April 26th, when the rioting erupted. Police in Tallinn say they have detained about 600 people who were involved in the unrest. Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Estonian law-enforcement agencies of using “excessive force” against protesters. The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, has unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Kremlin to sever diplomatic relations with and impose economic sanctions on Estonia, the Times of London reports. The resolution refers to Estonian officials as “provincial neo-Nazis.” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, meanwhile, called those involved in rioting in Tallinn and other Estonian cities “criminals” who “were not united by nationality but by the wish to riot, demolish and rob.” Shops and bars in Tallinn’s historic city center were vandalized and looted during the unrest.

Who Wins: It's What You Want To Believe That Counts
The U.S. Congress, now controlled by the Democratic Party, is insisting that American troops be withdrawn from Iraq if the Iraqi government does not meet specific goals. Many Democratic politicians say the war is lost. How that loss is defined appears linked to the level of violence in Iraq, American casualties, and who is causing the violence. It's been known, since shortly after Saddam was driven out of power in 2003, that his followers had a "Plan B" that involved a sustained terror campaign. It was believed that this would eventually drive the Americans out (based on the Vietnam experience), and allow the Sunni Arab minority to regain power. This is an eerie repeat of the Vietnam experience, where the South Vietnamese rebels were crushed in the late 1960s, at the same time the many American politicians (mainly Democrats) were saying the war was lost. South Vietnam eventually fell to a conventional invasion from North Vietnam in 1975, as the guerillas in the south never recovered.

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs are talking about history repeating itself. But there's a nasty catch. The Sunni Arab terror campaign has made the Sunni Arabs even more hated than they were in 2003. If the American troops left, the retribution from the much more numerous Kurdish and Shia Arab troops would be a disaster for the remaining Sunni Arabs of Iraq. Over have of them have already fled the country. But the hardcore who are still carrying on the fight, believing that neighboring Sunni Arab nations (especially Saudi Arabia) would rather invade, than see the Sunni Arabs driven out of Iraq. Saudi Arabia has said, publicly and privately (via diplomatic channels) that they would not invade. The main reason for this is Iran, which would be compelled to support the Shia majority that now runs Iraq. Now the Sunni Arabs could call on the United States to come back and help keep the Iranians out of Iraq, but American voters are pretty fed up with Middle Eastern politics at this point.

These realities don't play well in American politics. Democrats don't want to admit there is any reason to keep American troops in the Persian Gulf. The reality of the continued Sunni Arab resistance to a democratic government in Iraq never caught on with the Western mass media, although troops in Iraq realize pretty quick what's happening. Thus winning in Iraq is complicated not by what is happening there, but by what a lot of different groups outside of Iraq want to believe is happening.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve Storage Sites
Emergency crude oil is stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in salt caverns. Created deep within the massive salt deposits that underlie most of the Texas and Louisiana coastline, the caverns offer the best security and are the most affordable means of storage, costing up to 10 times less than aboveground tanks and 20 times less than hard rock mines. Storage locations along the Gulf Coast were selected because they provide the most flexible means for connecting to the Nation's commercial oil transport network. Strategic Reserve oil can be distributed through interstate pipelines to nearly half of the Nation's oil refineries or loaded into ships or barges for transport to other refineries. Strategic Petroleum Reserve caverns range in size from 6 to 35 million barrels in capacity; a typical cavern holds 10 million barrels and cylindrical in shape with a diameter of 200 feet and a height of 2,000 feet. One storage cavern is large enough for Chicago's Sears Tower to fit inside with room to spare. The Reserve contains 62 of these huge underground caverns.

How the SPR Storage Sites Were Created
Salt caverns along the Gulf Coast have been used for storage for many years by the petrochemical industry. When the U.S. Government decided to create the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the mid-1970s, it acquired previously created salt caverns to store the first 250 million barrels of crude oil. This was the most rapid way to begin securing an emergency supply of crude oil following the oil shocks of the 1970s. To stockpile oil beyond the first 250 million barrels, the Department of Energy created additional caverns. Salt caverns are carved out of underground salt domes by a process called "solution mining." Essentially, the process involves drilling a well into a salt formation, then injecting massive amounts of fresh water. The water dissolves the salt. In creating the SPR caverns, the dissolved salt was removed as brine and either reinjected into disposal wells or more commonly, piped several miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico. By carefully controlling the freshwater injection process, salt caverns of very precise dimensions can be created. For every barrel of crude oil to be stored in the SPR's salt caverns, it took 7 barrels of water to create the storage space.

Besides being the lowest cost way to store oil for long periods of time, the use of deep salt caverns is also one of the most environmentally secure. At depths ranging from 2000 to 4000 feet, the salt walls of the storage caverns are "self-healing." The extreme geologic pressures make the salt walls rock hard, and should any cracks develop in the walls, they would be almost instantly closed. An added benefit of deep salt cavern storage is the natural temperature difference between the top of the caverns and the bottom – a distance of around 2,000 feet. The temperature differential keeps the crude oil continuously circulating in the caverns, maintaining the oil at a consistent quality. The fact that oil floats on water is the underlying mechanism used to move oil in and out of the SPR caverns. To withdraw crude oil, fresh water is pumped into the bottom of a cavern. The water displaces the crude oil to the surface. After the oil is removed from the SPR caverns, pipelines send it to various terminals and refineries around the nation.

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